MIRANDA’S VICTIM (2023)

April 19, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. “You have the right to remain silent.” Whether you say it out loud or just finish it in your head, the vast majority of us know what follows, even if it’s (hopefully) just from watching TV and movies. You likely also know that it’s part of The Miranda Rights … a list of rights that anyone being arrested is entitled to. If you are like me, you probably hadn’t put any thought into the origin of those rights or the requirement for law enforcement to recite them in a timely manner. Director Michelle Danner (THE RUNNER, 2021) and co-writers George Kolber and J Craig Stiles are here to educate by bringing us the story of Trish Weir and Ernesto Miranda.

The film is based on the true story of Trish, an 18-year-old working at a local movie theater. After one late night bus ride home from work, she was abducted and raped. As Trish, Abigail Breslin proves yet again that she is a terrific actor, and fully grown up since her breakthrough performance in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006). What follows is gut-wrenching, and likely a scene that played out all too frequently fifty years ago, and still occurs today. Trish’s mom (Mireille Enos, “The Killing”) tries to dissuade her from going to the police by warning her that “they never believe the victim”, and that she will then be considered “damaged goods.” It’s painful to watch this play out, despite knowing that mom thinks she is protecting her young daughter. Trish’s sister Ann (Emily Van Camp, “Revenge”) is very supportive and follows her to the doctor for the initial check-up, to the police station for filing the report, and ultimately to the courtroom.

There is much to consider in this story. How courageous was Trish for standing up and pursuing the case? How about the detectives (played by Enrique Murciano, Brent Sexton) who recognized that even though other victims had chosen not to come forward, Trish could help them stop a really bad guy? And then there is a legal system that was unfair to both Trish and Ernesto Miranda (Sebastian Quinn), as well as the attorney, judges, and jurors involved with the cases. Fittingly, a clip of the 1962 classic TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is shown, emphasizing the wheels of justice turn slowly. We see that the ACLU attorney (Ryan Phillippe) gets involved when he believes Mr. Miranda was coerced into a confession. This is the case that changes everything.

Supporting work comes from Luke Wilson as Trish’s attorney, Lawrence Turoff; Andy Garcia as Miranda’s first defense attorney, Alvin Moore; Donald Sutherland as a judge in the case; Taryn Manning (“Orange is the New Black”) as a key witness; Dan Lauria as the examining doctor; and Kyle MacLachlan as Chief Justice Earl Warren, who is excited for a rare public reading of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 1966. It should be noted that the film is very well acted, with the notable exception of Ryan Phillippe, who tries oh-so-hard to steal his scenes, failing painfully.

Michelle Danner’s work as director here is exceptional, given how many facets to the story must be juggled and given proper due. Even the re-trial of Miranda is handled well, as Trish is put through another round of emotional turmoil, this time involving her spouse. The film ends with a startling statistic: only 5 of every 1000 sexual assaults result in a conviction. Those are today’s figures, so we are left to wonder just how much has changed over the past 60 years.

The film is currently playing the Film Festival circuit


CATCH HELL (2014)

October 28, 2014

catch hell Greetings again from the darkness. Ryan Phillippe has hit the big Four-O, so it makes sense that he would want to explore the other side of the camera with writing, directing, and producing. He’s had a pretty successful acting career given what could be termed a minimal lack of range and a quiet screen presence. His feature film directorial debut (Direct-To-Video) utilizes a script he co-wrote with Joe Gossett, capitalizing on Phillippe’s lot in Hollywood right now … the once promising star looking to recapture the magic with a “game-changer”.

The film opens with a dramatic shot of actor Reagan Pearce’s (RP … get it?) stunning mansion. We see him catch a flight to Shreveport, Louisiana and take a meeting with a slightly spastic director and blow-hard producer. He decides to stick with the project in an effort to re-establish his career … he’s just out of rehab (of course). The next morning, things go really badly as Reagan is kidnapped by a couple of Louisiana hillbillies and locked up in a swamp cabin.

Brutal torture scenes follow and we soon enough learn that one of his captors (Ian Barford) is seeking revenge for Reagan’s dalliance with his wife on the set of a movie. The plan is to destroy Reagan’s reputation and then kill him once he is hated by all. The script attempts some Hollywood satire and makes some obvious commentary on the whole tabloid and celebrity world, but mostly it comes off as a bit self-indulgent for Mr. Phillippe.

There are some flashes of interesting moments, mostly involving Stephen Grush as the second hillbilly with homosexual overtures towards Reagan. Unfortunately, the film does not take advantage of the colorful swamp setting and instead takes place almost entirely within the run down cabin. You will note dashes of Deliverance, Black Snake Moan, and Misery, but this one isn’t at that level. Instead it comes off like a bucket list item for Phillippe … director/writer/producer/star of his own film.

watch the trailer:

 


THE LINCOLN LAWYER

March 20, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Major dilemma: sucker for courtroom dramas vs. no fan of Matthew McConaughey. I decided to give it a shot, and given my low expectations, found the movie to be quite entertaining – despite its numerous flaws. If you are a fan of the endless stream of John Grisham book-turned-movie, then I expect you will find this one to your taste.

Based on the Michael Connelly series of novels built around Mick Haller, this one has the look and feel of part one (and also of a TV series). Haller is the Lincoln Lawyer, so named because of his propensity to handle much of his work from the backseat of a classic Lincoln Town Car. The choice of McConaughey as Haller seemed all together wrong given his annual appearance in some lame ass Rom-Com, where he spends most of each movie shirtless and smirking. Luckily for us, Mr. McConaughey manages to re-capture some of the acting skills he flashed in A Time to Kill, so many years ago.

 In addition to his close to the vest portrayal of Haller, the movie works because of an incredibly deep cast that includes Marisa Tomei as his ex-wife and frequent courtroom adversary (she is an ADA), Ryan Phillippe as the accused rich boy, William H Macy as the long-time and streetwise private investigator, Josh Lucas as the ADA in the main case, Bryan Cranston as the detective in charge, plus Michael Pena, Bob Gunton (warden from Shawshank Redemption), John Leguizamo, Frances Fisher, Laurence Mason (Earl the driver), Shea Willingham (Boardwalk Empire), Trace Adkins (the country star as the leader of a biker gang) and Michael Pare (Eddie and the Cruisers). Seriously, this cast allows every scene to have something worth watching.

 The two things that prevent the movie from being top notch are the beyond-belief exaggerated moments (including about 3 too many endings) and the absolutely distracting camera work courtesy of director Brad Furman. In the hands of a more experienced director, many of the flaws could have been corrected.

This is not presented as an ultra serious courtroom drama in the vein of 12 Angry Men or Judgment at Nuremberg. Rather it is a character driven story with a multitude of twists … some of which work and some of which don’t. I found it to be  enjoyable despite the script issues and the hey-look-at-me direction.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you too are a sucker for courtroom dramas OR you doubt my claim that McConaughey can avoid going shirtless for 2 hours.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you demand perfection in your crime thriller scripts OR you believe the only reason to see a McConaughey movie is because he does go shirtless